PENSACOLA BEACH, FLORIDA
   
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Pensacola Beach is located just south of Pensacola and Gulf Breeze (across the bridges) on the western end of Santa Rosa Island, a 40-mile long barrier island. Pensacola Beach is built almost exclusively around tourism. You’ll find mostly hotels, restaurants, gift shops and other businesses catering to tourists. Pensacola Beach is clearly growing. A 25 or 30 story hotel was under construction during our visit and many of the restaurants and buildings appear to have been recently constructed. Since it’s located on a 1/4-mile-wide island, virtually all of the community’s businesses are on one main road and the road leading to and from the mainland.  

The Beach:

We stayed at The Best Western Resort in Pensacola Beach, so of course, we spent most of our beach time there. The clean white sand beach is very beautiful, but swimming conditions weren't good during our visit. The water had strong cross-currents and rip-currents. Upon entering the water, the beach dropped off steeply, so we couldn’t walk very far into the water and still touch bottom. Therefore, boogie-boarding was very difficult and not much fun. My 10 and 12 year old daughters and I all suffered a few jellyfish stings. The stings were numerous, but not severe... like a sweat bee vs. a honeybee. Perhaps the jellyfish aren’t always around and the surf is often gentler, but the surf was poor during our visit.

But... If you normally don’t spend much time in the water, the beach is very nice. There’s great shell hunting at low tide. We found several varieties of seashell, including some fully intact conch shells. The eager seagulls swooped down to eat bits of bread out of our hands, and we had fun hunting small sand crabs along the shore after dark.

Dining:

We did not dine out much. Since our hotel had a fridge and microwave, we nourished ourselves on deli meat sandwiches, chips, leftovers and free continental breakfasts. We did have these two noteworthy dining experiences...

The Creamery Café (in Gulf Breeze):

Located in a small non-descript Gulf Breeze shopping center, The Creamery Café is owned by a transplanted Chicago couple of German ancestry. Our noontime appetites were well-satisfied and we had plenty of leftovers for dinner. The restaurant features German specialties. Among their most popular are the weinerschnitzel and their wurst platter. They also feature a few southern dishes... I had the crab cakes served with a cole slaw-stuffed tomato. They also have hot sandwiches and HUGE salads. Mom had the roast beef au jus (a.k.a. french dip), served on a big chewy french roll. My older daughter had a gigantic taco salad. She couldn’t even eat half of it. And my younger daughter had a personal-size pepperoni pizza. The Creamery Café also makes their own ice cream on site and serves enormous sundaes and banana splits. The restaurant is small and quaint. The have three booths and about ten small round tables for four with green gingham-patterned tablecloths. Lunch prices are quite reasonable, especially when portion size is considered. They also have a small gift shop. I found this place in the AAA Tour Book and it’s easy to miss. This small, homey restaurant is undoubtedly popular with the locals, but tourists are welcome and appreciated. Creamery Café - 348 Gulf Breeze Pk. W, Gulf Breeze, FL (850) 932-1525

Barracuda’s (in Navarre Beach):

Because we saw how crowded the popular Pensacola Beach restaurants were on Friday evening, we decided to eat just one big meal on Saturday afternoon. We took the very scenic 30 minute (15 mile) drive along Santa Rosa Island to Navarre Beach, east of Pensacola Beach. I believe Barracuda's Island Café to be typical of the area’s most popular restaurants. It’s a medium to large restaurant with a big bar, booths and tables with privacy partitions, sea life decor, gulf view window seats and a deck for outdoor dining. Classic rock music played in the background and they have live rock and roll in the evenings. The menu features seafood and southern cuisine. I had a delicious fried oyster po’ boy with beans and rice. Mom ordered a seafood muffeleta (we both ate the leftovers for dinner). The girls got a regular muffeleta and a cheeseburger. (See my New Orleans Review for more southern cuisine info.)

Barracuda's Bar & Grill - 8469 Gulf Blvd. - Navarre Beach, FL 32566 (850) 939-0093

Although we didn’t visit the following Pensacola Beach restaurants, Kay recommended Peg Leg Pete's, Boy on a Dolphin, Flounder's, The Jubilee Restaurant, Crabs and Sidelines. Pensacola Beach also has a Hooter’s... at the end of the boardwalk.

Shopping:

Pensacola Beach abounds with shops, and shopping is always popular with my girls anywhere we are. Our favorite shop was The Palace, a big yellow building on the right side of the road just after you drive onto the island. This good-sized shop has lots of different t-shirt and fashion designs, both costly and cheap. They have inexpensive bathing suits, boogie boards, pool toys and everything you need to enjoy the beach. They have shells and plenty of other local souvenirs. They also provide personally-administered temporary tattoos. I saw the illuminated light bulb above my oldest daughter’s head as she watched another teenager receiver her tattoo... but, oddly, she didn’t ask me for one. Wait till next year...

Pensacola Beach has many other shops, but their highest concentration of shops, snack bars and restaurants (without having to drive) is at the Quietwater Beach and Boardwalk. We explored the boardwalk in the middle of a very hot afternoon. It was not especially crowded. Some of the stores were pretty lame... others were cool and unique. By the way, Quietwater Beach is a small shallow beach at the boardwalk. It’s nestled on the island’s north side, so it is not subject to the rougher waves found on the other side of the island and is more suitable for the wee ones. Quietwater also regularly features live music at their small amphitheater. Local trolley service is available.

We spent part of a day exploring the city of Pensacola. We enjoyed our time at the Cordova Mall just off of I-110. It had many unique shops and a great food court.

Area Attractions:

Pensacola Beach has several fun family attractions like miniature golf, go-carts arcade games and such. We played putt-putt at Tiki Island Golf, featuring lots of palm trees and waterfalls. If you can spend a few extra bucks, charter boats are on hand and parasailing services are available. There’s a public fishing pier as well as areas ideal for snorkeling.

Aside from the beach, the area’s best natural attraction is the drive across Santa Rosa Island along Route 399 between Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach. Along the scenic drive, you’ll see sparsely vegetated sand dunes on the north side of the two-lane road, and the gulf and beach on the south. It almost certainly looks quite different from wherever you came, and is worth the short drive.

Blue Angels:

Pensacola is home to the Pensacola Naval Air Station, where the famous Blue Angels Flight Team is based. In 2003, the Blue Angels practiced every Tuesday over and around the Air Station. The Museum Of Naval Aviation has a viewing area where visitors may watch the team practice. Blue Angels website: http://www.blueangels.navy.mil/flashindex.html

Museum Of Naval Aviation:

See the Museum Of Naval Aviation Page for information on this fine attraction.

Other Area Attractions:

We visited none of these attractions, but they are listed here for informational purposes.

The Zoo - This small zoo about 10 miles east of Gulf Breeze on the Gulf Breeze Parkway has over 700 animals including lions, tigers, giraffes, bears, rhinos, primates, birds, reptiles etc. Adults and teens are $10.95, children (3 - 11) are $7.95 and senior citizens are (62 and up) $9.95 (www.the-zoo.com)

Fort Pickens - Built in 1834, visitors may tour this historical fort and its scenic surroundings. Situated upon the Gulf Islands National Seashore area, it is administered by the U.S. Park Service. The area is also home to a museum and a scenic campground. It’s ideal for nature lovers. Admission (2004) is $8.00 per vehicle for a 7-day pass.

CLICK THUMBNAILS FOR LARGER IMAGE

PENSACOLA BEACH WATER TOWER FEEDING THE SEAGULLS
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BEACH LOOKING EAST BEACH LOOKING WEST
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JELLYFISH CRAB
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SHELLS SUNSET
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CREAMERY CAFE CREAMERY CAFE INTERIOR
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CREAMERY CAFE - TACO SALAD CREAMERY CAFE - BANANA SPLIT
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BARRACUDA'S - NAVARRE BEACH BARRACUDA'S INTERIOR
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SANTA ROSA ISLAND BARRACUDA'S - MUFFELETA
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QUIETWATER BEACH   BOARDWALK
     

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